USS America leaves Pascagoula to cheering crowd of well-wishers

Sun HeraldJuly 11, 2014 

PASCAGOULA -- She was under way by mid-morning, the USS America.

She blew her horn to the cheers of 350 to 400 people gathered on the shore across from Ingalls Shipbuilding. The tugs and fire boats backed away and she began moving slowly through the ship channel, out from the Pascagoula River.

"There's no stopping her now," said Mark Nickelson, who works with the Supervisor of Shipbuilding crew that oversaw America's construction at Ingalls.

Nickelson was among the sea of well-wishers who included the families of shipbuilders and sailors, children from the city Parks and Recreation Department, Boy Scouts handing out flags, ex-military and simply the patriotic.

Flags were waving and video cameras were rolling.

After all, this was the America leaving.

There were tears.

It's history. She is the fourth in the Navy to bear this country's name. And she was assembled on the Mississippi Coast. She has been under construction since 2009.

America is now headed around South America to her homeport in San Diego.

Sailors dressed in summer whites stood at parade rest, with their arms behind their backs and legs apart, elbow to elbow, along the rails of the 844-foot-long ship as the support boats backed away and she began to pull slowly away from the dock.

Her motion was almost undetectable. It fooled many in the crowd at first. Then she picked up speed and within minutes was steaming away, the spray of the support boats in her wake.

As the ship left, Capt. Rob

ert Hall's voice over the intercom thanked the community for their Southern hospitality. The crowd across the river cheered some more.

"God bless you and God bless America," Hall said. 

"America the Beautiful" played from the intercom of the ship.

Ingalls President Brian Cuccias said the America is a viable warship that will defend and protect the country, and he's proud Ingalls built it strong. 

"It's just an absolute awesome sense of accomplishment to see the America leave," he said. 

On the opposite shore, Addison Hiestand, 7, of Hurley declared, "My Papaw helped build that ship!"

Morgan Maurice brought her two daughters from their Gulfport home, because she thought "it would be good for the little ones to see.

"It was," she said after the departure, even though it was a hot wait in the July morning sun.

People on dozens of private boats and kayaks watched from the Mississippi Sound.

Curtis Shanks, 57, came out to see the work his son had done as a paint foreman at the shipyard. Was it worth standing in the heat to see the America?

"Yes," he said. "Making history. For this, I'll take a little heat."

Kimberly Hines of Vancleave stood on the rocks along the shore with her grandson and daughter. Her husband and son-in-law both worked on the America. Even though she's from a shipbuilding family, this was her first time to see one of the ships leave.

Watching the sendoff, she whispered, "Very impressive ... how grand the ship is, just the size of it."

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